Iranian intelligence agencies have accused two detained female journalists who reported on the death of Mahsa Amini of spying and of being “primary sources of news for foreign media.”
Niloofar Hamedi and Elaheh Mohammadi, of the newspapers Shargh and Ham Mihan, have been under arrest since the news of the September 16 death of 22-year-old Amini in the custody of the Morality Police was made public.
Amini’s death triggered an ongoing wave of nationwide protests against the clerical regime and a crackdown by security forces that has killed at least 234 people, including 29 children, according to one human rights organization. Several thousand people have been arrested, including many journalists.
In a joint statement published on October 29, the Intelligence Organization of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and the Intelligence Ministry accused Hamedi of pretending to be a journalist and of compelling Amini’s family to divulge information about her death.
Mohammadi, who wrote a report on the funeral of the young woman in her hometown of Saqqez, was accused of receiving training as a foreign agent.
The statement also claimed that Hamedi published the first picture of Amini on her hospital bed.
IranWire, the first media outlet that reported Amini had fallen into coma, publishing pictures of her, denies the allegations.
“I emphasize that IranWire’s source for the news item that was published on September 14 and for the first time contained Mahsa Amini’s name and picture was not a journalist,” says Maziar Bahari, IranWire’s founder and editor in chief.
That story, written by Aida Ghajar, was titled “IranWire Exclusive: Morality Patrol Beats a Woman into a Coma.”
It was based on an interview with Amini’s brother, Ashkan, and, for the first time reported in detail her arrest in Tehran, her transfer to a police station on Vozara Avenue, her falling into a coma and her transfer to Kasra Hospital.
IranWire received the first pictures from Mahsa’s brother.
How did IranWire gained access to these information?
“On Tuesday night, September 13, I saw a few tweets from unidentified sources saying that a young woman had gone into a coma while in the custody of Morality Police,” Ghajar said.
“Then, on Wednesday morning, a tweet by Sajjad Khoda-Karami (eds: an Iranian journalist based in Turkey) said the young woman who was arrested by Morality Police and fell into a coma was taken to Kasra Hospital.”
Ghajar discussed the matter with IranWire Persian’s editor in chief, Shima Shahrabi, and they started contacting various sources to fact-check the tweets.
“A former police employee who still maintains special relations with the police is one of our sources,” says Shahrabi.
“I contacted him, told him the story and asked him to verify it. A few hours later he contacted me, confirmed the story, and gave us the phone number of Mahsa’s brother. To protect this person, I cannot disclose more information about him.”
Ghajar called that number and Ashkan Amini told her to mention his name in the article.
“Mahsa’s brother told me: ‘I have nothing to lose. Please use my name in the report,’” she says.
After the interview, he sent two pictures of Mahsa to the journalist, the same pictures that were published along with Ghajar’s report.
Bahari emphasizes that none of the members of IranWire’s editorial board had, or has, any contact with professional journalists inside Iran:
“For the safety of professional journalists in Iran we never contact them. However, we are in contact with many citizen journalists, and they help us in our reporting, including when we report on breaking news.”
Bahari says that the point of these explanations is not to gloat on IranWire’s success, but to clarify the situation and fight back against unfounded charges against journalists inside Iran.
“I believe that Niloofar Hamedi and Elaheh Mohammadi only fulfilled their professional duty and IranWire has never had any contact with them."